Over the course of her career, Gina Prince-Bythewood has proven she can do it all. Across five films and roughly 20 years, she had made an enduring romantic sports story, a southern family drama, a pop star star-crossed romance, a superhero fantasy action film, and a feminist historical epic. And with every new genre the filmmaker has ticked off her list, Prince-Bythewood has shown a mastery for its particularities every time.
Born in Chicago, Illinois and raised in Pacific Grove, California, Prince-Bythewood attended University of California in Los Angeles, where she studied film and graduated in 1991. After several years as a writer on TV shows like “A Different World” and “South Central,” her first film, 2000’s “Love and Basketball,” was released to critical acclaim. The story of two childhood best friends with a shared love for basketball — and a chronicle of their tumultuous relationship through the years as they both seek to play the sport professionally — was critically acclaimed. The film has endured with one of the most beloved reputations in the romance genre certainly for its decade, but arguably also for all time.
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Off the back of “Love and Basketball,” Prince-Bythewood has only made a few other films; many projects she’s worked on, like Sony “Spider-Man” spinoff “Silver & Black,” went unrealized. But each finished project has been excellent, feeling like a logical evolution in her work as an auteur. After acclaimed dramas “The Secret Life of Bees” and “Beyond the Lights,” Prince-Bythewood made the leap to blockbuster filmmaking with Netflix’s Charlize Theron vehicle “The Old Guard,” showing a natural affinity for action scenes, stunt-work, and tense thrills.
That prepped her for her latest film, 2022’s “The Woman King,” a historical epic starring Viola Davis as a general of the Agojie, an all-woman unit of warriors who served the 17th century African kingdom of Dahomey. “The Woman King” received critical acclaim for Davis’ performance, as well as Prince-Bythewood’s directing and screenwriting. That made it sting all the more when the film received zero Oscar nominations, leaving Prince-Bythewood out of the Best Director race. Given Prince-Bythewood’s obvious talent and resume of exceptional films, the question isn’t if she deserves an Oscar; it’s when the Oscars will finally make things right.
Given the filmmaker’s affinity for romances, it’s no surprise that many of the films Prince-Bythewood has cited among her all-time favorites fall into that genre. In particular, she’s singled out “Broadcast News,” James L. Brooks’ beloved 1987 dramatic rom-com about the career and love life of a female producer at a national news network, as one of her most beloved movies. Other films Prince-Bythewood has mentioned as inspirations include Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love” and Marcel Camus’ “Black Orpheus.” Aside from romance films, she also has strongly championed movies from Black directors centering Black stories, including “A Dry White Season,” “Devil in a Blue Dress,” and “Claudine.”
With Black History Month 2024 already here, IndieWire decided to look at some of the favorite films of some prominent Black directors. Here are ten of Gina Prince-Bythewood’s recommendations, culled from interviews she has given throughout her career. Selections are listed in no particular order.
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